The clinical utility of rapid genome sequencing (rGS) in critically unwell infants has been consistently demonstrated, and there are calls for rGS to be implemented as a first-line test in the NICU. A diagnosis from rGS can enable rapid initiation of precision treatment, making it potentially lifesaving. However, in many patients rGS leads to the diagnosis of severe and life-limiting conditions, prompting discussion with families about withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment.
The complexity of information about rGS, together with the heightened emotions of parents in the NICU, poses significant challenges for informed decision making in this context. We present a case where both parents are unable to provide informed consent, and the treating team must decide whether to proceed with rGS. Our discussion highlights the important differences between genome sequencing and other types of genetic testing, and the crucial role played by pre-test counseling in facilitating informed consent and preparing parents for a range of possible outcomes. We then discuss the consent paradigms at play in NICUs; whereas admission generally comes with an understanding that the treating team will perform interventions thought to be in the best interest of the child, rGS is substantially different because of its long-term implications for patients and family members. Finally, we look at the ethical interplay between parental consent and the interests of the child. We conclude by showing how cases like this are resolved at our tertiary center and how they may be resolved differently in future.